Dumbarton House

2715 Q Street, NW, Washington, DC 20007 - United States



Museum Day Hours of Operation: 10:00 am ‐ 3:00 pm (last entry 2:45pm)

Dumbarton House is a Federal period historic house museum, ca. 1800, whose historic structure and collection are preserved to educate the public about life in Washington, D.C, during the early years of the Republic.

The museum features an extensive collection of Federal-era decorative arts, paintings and furniture, and is the only fully-furnished Federal house museum open to the public in Washington. Dumbarton House serves as the headquarters of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (https://www.nscda.org), a women’s organization that actively promotes our national heritage through historic preservation, patriotic service and educational projects.



Visitors to Dumbarton House return in time to when Joseph Nourse, first Register of the U.S. Treasury, and his wife Maria, made their home here, between 1804 and 1813. The first floor of the home is decorated and furnished to reflect their tastes, and beyond this, the early history of Washington and Georgetown, two of the three towns in the newly established District of Columbia.

To depict life at Dumbarton House in the early 19th century accurately, extensive research was carried out, culminating in a lengthy document, the Dumbarton House Historic Furnishings Plan. This study was prepared by independent scholar Ellen Donald over a five-year period, with contributions from Brian Lang, curator of decorative arts at the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina. First, every surviving document relating to the Nourse family was scrutinized, as well as objects known to have a Nourse provenance. The house itself was then thoroughly analyzed, including its plaster, paint, brickwork and nail holes, using the most advanced technology available. When gaps in the picture still remained — and many did — other families of the same social position as the Nourses, who resided in the vicinity of their home during the same period were studied. Probate inventories proved to be valuable in this regard, especially when they contained a room-by-room listing of a home’s furnishings. Newspaper advertisements served as a barometer of what was available for purchase at the time. Together, these sources in the hands of experienced researchers produced a detailed picture of the Nourse family’s life in Dumbarton House.

Returning to the Nourse family, questions such as whether the Nourses bought new furnishings in the prevailing fashion and redecorated their home frequently, or if they entertained frequently can be answered with confidence.

Over the next few months as final editing is completed, the entire Historic Furnishings Plan will be made available online to advance understanding of one family’s life in early 19th century Georgetown. Plans for the second floor are currently under development. As in the past, rotating exhibitions will be mounted there, and in another space, objects and explanatory text will be devoted to The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America and its members as collectors and historic preservationists.”

Women of Vision:

In 1891, a group of women in Pennsylvania founded a society for historical preservation. The other original states were invited to join their society and three immediately accepted. They would go on to organize themselves while maintaining their original state identities. Today, there are 44 such corporate societies, associated under the rubric of The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA).

The NSCDA mission states three objectives: historic preservation, patriotic service, and education. But who were, and who, today, are the women who join and support the NSCDA? While they take pride in their familial connections to America’s colonial days and happily support preservation of historic sites, documents, and artifacts, these women have many diverse interests and abilities, and their individual accomplishments are impressive.

Highlighted in this exhibit are 20 outstanding women of the NSCDA. Their stories exemplify courage, compassion, and leadership. Some are imaginative and daring, others creative and artistic. But again and again, we find a concern to preserve the past, serve the present and, educate for the future.

History’s Keepers: The Legacy of the NSCDA

Since 1891, The National Society of The Colonial Dames of America (NSCDA) has worked to inspire a spirit of patriotism and a genuine love of country by creating widespread interest in the stories of our nation’s founding and development. The legacy of the NSCDA is continued in the work of its 15,000+ members, placing it among the national leaders in preservation of historic sites, buildings, gardens, art, and artifacts.

One hundred and twenty-five years ago, a group of about thirty men and women gathered in Philadelphia to consider forming a women’s organization dedicated to honoring the colonial history of the United States. Fifteen years earlier, the Centennial Exposition of 1876 revived popular interest in our nation’s earliest period. Architect Robert S. Peabody wrote at the time, “With our Centennial year have we not discovered that we too have a past worthy of study?”

Those gathered in Philadelphia agreed that our past was indeed worth studying, and the women in attendance formed the PA Society, the first Corporate Society of what would become the NSCDA, on April 8, 1891. Within three years, all thirteen of the original states and the District of Columbia had joined the NSCDA. By 1896, the NSCDA adopted a structure that would allow non-colonial states to join. Today, Corporate Societies in 43 states and D.C., made up of 15,000+ women descended from leaders in colonial America, work together Entrusted with History’s Future.

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